Document Type


Original Publication Date


Journal/Book/Conference Title

Molecular Neurodegeneration



DOI of Original Publication



Originally published at

Date of Submission

August 2014


Background Fractalkine/CX3CL1 and its cognate receptor CX3CR1 are abundantly expressed in the CNS. Fractalkine is an unusual C-X3-C motif chemokine that is important in neuron-microglial communication, a co-receptor for HIV infection, and can be neuroprotective. To assess the effects of fractalkine on opiate-HIV interactive neurotoxicity, wild-type murine striatal neurons were co-cultured with mixed glia from the striata of wild-type or Cx3cr1 knockout mice ± HIV-1 Tat and/or morphine. Time-lapse digital images were continuously recorded at 20 min intervals for up to 72 h using computer-aided microscopy to track the same cells repeatedly.

Results Co-exposure to Tat and morphine caused synergistic increases in neuron death, dendritic pruning, and microglial motility as previously reported. Exogenous fractalkine prevented synergistic Tat and morphine-induced dendritic losses and neuron death even though the inflammatory mediator TNF-α remained significantly elevated. Antibody blockade of CX3CR1 mimicked the toxic effects of morphine plus Tat, but did not add to their toxicity; while fractalkine failed to protect wild-type neurons co-cultured with Cx3cr1-/--null glia against morphine and Tat toxicity. Exogenous fractalkine also normalized microglial motility, which is elevated by Tat and morphine co-exposure, presumably limiting microglial surveillance that may lead to toxic effects on neurons. Fractalkine immunofluorescence was expressed in neurons and to a lesser extent by other cell types, whereas CX3CR1 immunoreactivity or GFP fluorescence in cells cultured from the striatum of Cx3cr1-/- (Cx3cr1GFP/GFP) mice were associated with microglia. Immunoblotting shows that fractalkine levels were unchanged following Tat and/or morphine exposure and there was no increase in released fractalkine as determined by ELISA. By contrast, CX3CR1 protein levels were markedly downregulated.

Conclusions The results suggest that deficits in fractalkine-CX3CR1 signaling contribute to the synergistic neurotoxic effects of opioids and Tat. Importantly, exogenous fractalkine can selectively protect neurons from the injurious effects of chronic opioid-HIV-1 Tat co-exposure, and this suggests a potential therapeutic course for neuroAIDS. Although the cellular mechanisms underlying neuroprotection are not certain, findings that exogenous fractalkine reduces microglial motility and fails to protect neurons co-cultured with Cx3cr1-/- mixed glia suggest that fractalkine may act by interfering with toxic microglial-neuron interactions.


© 2011 Suzuki et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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VCU Pharmacology and Toxicology Publications